As part of the Trump administration's draconian crackdown on undocumented immigrants, ICE is arresting immigrants at their workplaces at drastically higher rates than in years past, new numbers from the agency reveal. Between October 2017 and July 2018, immigration officials made 1,659 criminal and administrative worksite-related arrests — over five times the number of such arrests made in the previous fiscal year.
According to numbers released by the agency on Wednesday, ICE also opened up 6,093 investigations into employers suspected of hiring undocumented immigrants during the last 10 months, compared with just 1,716 between October 2016 and September 2017. Similarly, the agency has opened up almost four times as many I-9 audits, in which businesses are asked to prove that they aren't employing undocumented immigrants, in the most recent fiscal year as it did in the one before.
ICE trumpeted these statistics in a press release, explaining that the increase in I-9 audits was the result of a "a two-phase nationwide operation." It said that Homeland Security Investigations, ICE's investigative wing, is actively seeking to crack down on employers that hire undocumented workers.
"While the agency routinely conducts worksite investigations to uphold federal law, HSI is currently carrying out its commitment to increase the number of I-9 audits in an effort to create a culture of compliance among employers," the agency said in its press release. "HSI’s worksite enforcement strategy focuses on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly break the law, and the use of I-9 audits and civil fines to encourage compliance with the law."
According to ICE, immigration officials made 675 criminal and 984 administrative arrests at workplaces between October 2017 and July 20, 2018, for a total of 1,695. By comparison, there were only 139 criminal arrests and 172 administrative arrests, or 311 in total, between October 2016 and September 2017.
Some of these arrests have made national news. In January, ICE raided 98 7-11 stores across the country in search of undocumented workers and arrested 21 people on suspicion of being in the country illegally.
The dramatic uptick in workplace arrests appears to be part of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" approach to immigration, which drew widespread international criticism when, beginning in May, the administration began separating undocumented children from their parents and putting them in cages across the country. Although a federal judge has ordered the administration to reunite the more than 2,000 families it has split up under the policy, CNN reported that 463 parents in such families have already been deported.
As a result of this, animosity toward ICE has been growing among Democrats and progressives, many of whom are now demanding that the agency be abolished.
In June, New York Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand — seen by many as a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 — became the first sitting senator to call for the abolishment of ICE. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic Socialist whose upset victory over incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley caused shockwaves in the Democratic establishment, also supports eliminating ICE, as do a handful of Democratic lawmakers in the House. Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin has introduced legislation that would abolish the agency.